SAUDI ARABIA: On Being a Muslim Abroad

On Being a Muslim Abroad

Paris, 1989, on a playground. A young girl only a year or two older than I asks me, in French, “Where are you from?” “I am from Saudi Arabia,” I reply.  She asks me where that is. This happened to me frequently, and I couldn’t understand how children didn’t know where Saudi Arabia was! I knew where France was… Why shouldn’t they know where Saudi was?

Vermont, 1993. Camp Kenya. “Do you have an oil well in your backyard?” “Are you a millionaire?” “Do you live in a tent?” We indulged the questions at first, but it started to get a bit old. My cousin and I tried to blend in as best we could, without joining in on the conversations about boys and first kisses. While we obviously stood out, our novelty wore off quickly, especially when our answers to their questions were not as exotic or mysterious as the other children hoped.

1998, London, American University. “Oh! You don’t seem like a Saudi,” a fellow student exclaimed. “How many Saudis have you met?” I asked her. “None,” she replied. Another student remarked, “Wow, a Saudi woman studying graphic design in London! What a huge step for women!” I couldn’t help but be offended. ”Ummmm… my mother studied in Switzerland, is fluent in 3 languages and has devoted her life to women empowerment… Studying graphic design in London is no great feat.”

2000, London, American University. In response to the news of my engagement, one of my teachers called me into his office. “Are you ok?” he asked me. “Yes, why?” I replied. “Is it your choice to get married?” he asked. I was shocked by his question, so I replied, “Yes, it is. Why would you ask me that?” “I would hate for you to be coerced into something you didn’t want.” This is from a professor I had known for 2 years. In his classes, he knew me to be an opinionated, creative and confident woman. But apparently the cliches don’t shift.

September 11, 2001, London. At home. The phone rings. “Switch on the TV!” my cousin tells me. “What channel?” I ask. “Any channel,” she replies. We get a warning to stay home from University for a while, so my sister camps out in the living room in front of the news for days on end. “I am from Saudi Arabia,” is not longer greeted with curiosity and questions about oil wells in our backyard.

Watching the events unfold that day was horrific, devastating and gut wrenching. As a 21 year old college student, I felt society expected me to take responsibility or apologise, even though this act was so far away from anything I knew, anything I was raised with, anything I or anyone else I knew believed. I didn’t understand why these acts by these men changed people’s impression of me. “It’s me!” I wanted to shout.  I haven’t changed as a result of what terrorists have done. I don’t have a hand in this.

The cliche had changed overnight. ‘I am Saudi,’ was no longer only synonymous with, “I am an oppressed woman whose biggest ambition in the world is to buy half of Harrods.” It now also became synonymous with “I am a hateful person to be feared. I come from a country without a shred of good in it. I come from a country that breeds terrorists. Therefore I am sure to breed the myself. And my silence means I condone every terrorist act committed not only by a Saudi but by anyone claiming to be a muslim.” You may think this is a bit dramatic. I wish it was. It was very much black and white.

Looking at the world events in the last few months. Listening to the rhetoric coming out of the UK after Brexit and the US after the elections it is clear that nothing is ever black and white. Every country, every community, every family and every person has the capacity for both good and bad. I have lived my whole life knowing this. We were raised knowing this. That is why it is so difficult to understand when people paint a whole culture and country with one brush. I did not look at these situations and think, “That’s it! They hate us! They would rather see us gone.” Maybe I had the luxury of travelling to many places and meeting many people from different cultures. What I am certain of is that nothing and no one is perfect, what matters more is the effort people put into their betterment.

They have opinions about me, and about my people, but there is much that they do not see, that they do not know. Since September 11th Saudi Arabia has had dozens of terrorists attacks on its own soil targeting not only expats but Saudi civilians and law enforcement, as well as members of the government. The Saudi government has been actively fighting terrorism and has had many successes in this war against terror. Saudi Arabia has taken measures to regulate all charitable donations, requiring proper permits and security checks to ensure every donation is going where it is intended. The Saudi government recognised an underlying problem in our education system and has since changed the textbooks and method of teaching.

The Arab and Muslim world has lost many lives to extremist ways of thinking and terrorism. Likewise, the Arab and Muslim world has a great deal to gain by fighting the war of terror. We are together in this.

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Mama B. of Saudi Arabia. Photo credit to the author.

Mama B (Saudi Arabia)

Mama B’s a young mother of four beautiful children who leave her speechless in both, good ways and bad. She has been married for 9 years and has lived in London twice in her life. The first time was before marriage (for 4 years) and then again after marriage and kid number 2 (for almost 2 years). She is settled now in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (or as settled as one can be while renovating a house). Mama B loves writing and has been doing it since she could pick up a crayon. Then, for reasons beyond her comprehension, she did not study to become a writer, but instead took graphic design courses. Mama B writes about the challenges of raising children in this world, as it is, who are happy, confident, self reliant and productive without driving them (or herself) insane in the process. Mama B also sheds some light on the life of Saudi, Muslim children but does not claim to be the voice of all mothers or children in Saudi. Just her little "tribe." She has a huge, beautiful, loving family of brothers and sisters that make her feel like she wants to give her kids a huge, loving family of brothers and sisters, but then is snapped out of it by one of her three monkeys screaming “Ya Maamaa” (Ya being the arabic word for ‘hey’). You can find Mama B writing at her blog, Ya Maamaa . She's also on Twitter @YaMaamaa.

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UAE: Is there a Santa Claus? Thoughts on Trump and Guns

UAE: Is there a Santa Claus? Thoughts on Trump and Guns

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Abu Dhabi 600

“Will we be safe there?” My 11 year old son asked me that question as we were discussing our winter holiday travel plans, and I suppose, given that we live in the UAE, his question might make sense. In the last few years, we’ve traveled to Jordan, India, Kenya – all places that have been in the news lately as sites of violence.

Where are we going for the winter holidays, you might wonder, that would elicit such a question?

The United States.

I’ll let you think about that for a minute.

Okay, true, his question was a bit of a joke – the question of travel safety has become a running gag in our household, in part because that question is always the first thing my mother (in Illinois) always asks us.

But this time, when he asked the question, none of us laughed. He’d asked us just after the last mass shooting, the one in San Bernandino. And think about that for a minute: I have to specify for you which shooting I’m talking about. Was it the one in Colorado Springs outside Planned Parenthood, or the one in Oregon, or the one…

In other countries, when you say “mass shooting,” there simply aren’t that many to choose from because in the aftermath of the tragedy, governments have changed the laws to make such events less possible. But not in the good ol’ US of A.

When I tell people in the States where I live, there are two questions I am always asked: do I have to “cover” and “do I feel safe?” The answers are “no,” and “yes.” People who didn’t worry about me strolling home after midnight in New York’s East Village in the late 1980s now seem dreadfully concerned about my safety here, in this part of the world, as I drive off to the mall.

Part of why we chose to live abroad with our children had to do with wanting to give them a cosmopolitan perspective on the world: we wanted them to experience other cultures and learn to be open to, rather than threatened by, difference. I know that in the US it is possible to live in cosmopolitan cities—we used to live in Manhattan, where children from many nations crowded into my kids’ classrooms—but it is a different experience to live in a place where “your” culture is not the dominant.

A little while back, for instance, my older son had some friends over so that we could all go to a water park in the afternoon. When I told them it was time to get ready to go, my son said “well, we have to wait a little bit because T. is in the other room doing his prayers.” T. comes from a devout Muslim family and his mother would have been pleased to know that T. didn’t miss a prayer time just because the water park called. And for my son and his other friends, T. doing his prayers was as matter-of-fact as if he’d been changing into his swimsuit, or drinking a glass of water. Ordinary.

Like many of us, at home and abroad, I wrestle with how to explain to my children why the United States can’t simply change its gun laws and why so many people in the country seem afraid of anyone who worships at a mosque rather than a church or a temple. The explanation in both instances seems to boil down to fear: fear of change, fear of difference, fear of that-which-is-not-me.

It’s not much of an explanation, but it’s the only framework I have to explain why Donald Trump, for instance, can still be considered a candidate for the Presidency.

I know that the demagogues like Trump do not speak for all the people in the United States, and that many, many people are outraged by gun violence, but alas, the picture of the country that travels outward to the rest of the world is one of violent, gun-toting Islamophobia – and it’s scary. For me the fear rests not in the thought that Trump will ever be President because I refuse to believe that his bilious self is actually electable. I hang on to that fact as ardently as I once hung on to my belief in Santa Claus. No, my fear rests in the fact that, according to a recent poll, Trump leads the group of Republican Party presidential hopefuls, with 35.8% of the vote.


Maybe there really isn’t a Santa Claus.

How do you explain what’s happening in the United States to your children?

This is an original post by World Mom, Deborah Quinn in the United Arab Emirates. 

Photo Credit to the author. 





Mannahattamamma (UAE)

After twenty-plus years in Manhattan, Deborah Quinn and her family moved to Abu Dhabi (in the United Arab Emirates), where she spends a great deal of time driving her sons back and forth to soccer practice. She writes about travel, politics, feminism, education, and the absurdities of living in a place where temperatures regularly go above 110F.
Deborah can also be found on her blog, Mannahattamamma.

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NIGERIA: Another Christmas in Captivity for #ChibokGirls, World Forgets

NIGERIA: Another Christmas in Captivity for #ChibokGirls, World Forgets

Bring Back Our Girls Now

Time 100 Woman of the Year, Oby Obiageli (Oby) Kathryn Ezekwesili, looks and remembers the #ChibokGirls on Christmas Day.

Chibok Girls Remain in Captivity

Hmmmmm…today is Christmas, as I write this, and for many all over the world it’s time for félicitation, a time for merriment and sharing. But for our Chibok girls and their families, it’s time to wail and cry silently, while putting up a brave face for the whole world.

Freedom of worship is what a lot of us take for granted. A confirmed right, but for our #ChibokGirls, alas, it is not so. Most of them we heard have been converted to Islam. Islam doesn’t need forced converts. There is no compulsion in religion says God in Qur’an Chapter 2 verse 256.

Why, then, would someone take girls, who, even in the rules of war islamically, are never to be attacked? And forcefully convert them to Islam?


World Mom, Aisha Yesufu, speaks as activists gather in Abuja continuing to demand the rescue of the 219 Chibok Girls captured in April 2013 in Nigeria.

World Mom, Aisha Yesufu, speaks as activists gather in Abuja continuing to demand the rescue of the 219 Chibok Girls captured in April 2013 in Nigeria.

While others enjoy Christmas, our Chibok girls are weeping silently in their hearts. They probably do not even know that today is Christmas. That would be the worst.

For 620 days our Chibok girls have been in captivity. Mocked by their captors that no one would come, and, indeed, no one did.

Our Chibok girls have had to spend another Christmas in captivity, while the world moved on and forgets that 620 days ago the lives of 219 Chibok girls were frozen in a nightmare they never envisioned. They were captured by Boko Haram when they set out to get an education. Young, educated girls, whose empowered voice the terrorists found threatening.

For daring to have a mind of their own by getting an education, they have been put in bondage for 620 days.

How are Chibok parents faring during this day of festivities knowing that their precious daughters are with monsters who have no drop of humanity in them?

Nigerian Community For BBOGN

How do they cope thinking of all the atrocities their daughters have had to endure this past 620 days? Ahhhhh…they must die a thousand deaths everyday imagining what their daughters have had to go through.

While many in the world are waking up today after celebrating Christmas with their family and friends, please remember the 219 #ChibokGirls who spent their second Christmas away from their loved ones and in captivity.

Please remember #ChibokParents who have had to celebrate a second Christmas without their daughters and struggle to put on a brave face for the other children. All so that the terrorists would not steal the joy of the season from their children the way in which they stole their daughters.

#BringBackOurGirls NOW & ALIVE

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by World Mom, Aisha Yesufu in Nigeria. 

Photo credits to the author.

ALBERTA, CANADA: Lost in Translation…and So Much More

ALBERTA, CANADA: Lost in Translation…and So Much More

BoyInMosqueOn her visit to our home last October my mother had a lot of one-on-one time with my three year old son. While I was in the hospital giving birth to my fifth child, she was asking some serious questions. In this short period of time my mother came to a serious conclusion; her grandson doesn’t know about God. (more…)

Salma (Canada)

An Imperfect Stepford Wife is what Salma describes herself as because she simply cannot get it right. She loves decorating, travelling, parenting,learning, writing, reading and cooking, She also delights in all things mischievous, simply because it drives her hubby crazy. Salma has 2 daughters and a baby boy. The death of her first son in 2009 was very difficult, however, after the birth of her Rainbow baby in 2010 (one day after her birthday) she has made a commitment to laugh more and channel the innocence of youth through her children. She has blogged about her loss, her pregnancy with Rainbow, and Islamic life. After relocating to Alberta with her husband in 2011 she has found new challenges and rewards- like buying their first house, and finding a rewarding career. Her roots are tied to Jamaica, while her hubby is from Yemen. Their routes, however, have led them to Egypt and Canada, which is most interesting because their lives are filled with cultural and language barriers. Even though she earned a degree in Criminology, Salma's true passion is Social Work. She truly appreciates the beauty of the human race. She writes critical essays on topics such as feminism and the law, cultural relativity and the role of women in Islam and "the veil". Salma works full-time, however, she believes that unless the imagination of a child is nourished, it will go to waste. She follows the philosophy of un-schooling and always finds time to teach and explore with her children. From this stance, she pushes her children to be passionate about every aspect of life, and to strive to be life-long learners and teachers. You can read about her at Chasing Rainbow.

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UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: Merry National Happy Day Christmas: Holidays In a Flat World

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: Merry National Happy Day Christmas: Holidays In a Flat World

Christmas in Dubai

Starting midway through November, the green and red and white streamers appear; houses are bedecked with sparkling lights and buildings attempt to out-bling each other in outrageous green, red and white displays.  Festive lights and decorations sprout along streetlights and across shop windows and children get restless in school waiting for the holiday.

Except the red-white-and-green don’t signify Christmas but the UAE National Day, which is celebrated on December 2nd and commemorates the day forty-two years ago when the rulers of seven different fiefdoms signed a constitution and became the United Arab Emirates.  Sheikh Zayed, the leader of Abu Dhabi and the first President of the UAE, died in 2004 and his likeness is everywhere on National Day. For those of you in the United States, imagine if George Washington or Thomas Jefferson had died only ten years ago and you’ll have some sense of Zayed’s very long shadow.

For three years now, I’ve experienced a kind of cultural dissonance around National Day, as its colors and lights intersect in my mind with images of New York gussying itself up for the winter holidays. True, the UAE flag has a black stripe in it too, but when the buildings are lit up, they’re mostly lit up in what I think of as “Christmas colors.”  In my Facebook stream (which as an expat sometimes almost seems like a real space rather than a virtual one), pictures of people celebrating Thanksgiving or decorating their tree bump up against pictures of cars wrapped in UAE flags and buildings displaying Zayed’s face in lights.

Abu Dhabi prides itself on being a relatively open culture; there are expats living here from almost every country in the world. The international population means that that the city is a smorgasbord of holiday traditions, from Ramadan to Diwali to Christmas; I have friends here who (quietly) celebrate the Jewish High Holy Days, as well.

The malls and shops reflect this cosmopolitan community but in sometimes disconcerting ways: holiday Christmas displays feature Santa on a camel, or Christmas trees draped with UAE flags.  It does seem, as Thomas Friedman wrote several years ago, as if the world really is flat. Friedman is talking about economics rather than cultural traditions but I’m starting to think that we can’t really separate the one from the other. Eventually, it seems, we’re all going to be living in versions of the same place: a mall.

The other day, as we walked to the movie theater in the mall (in Abu Dhabi, everything is at some mall or other), past the prayer rooms and the Christmas trees and the UAE flags, my younger son said “How come people fight about religion?”  I didn’t have an answer and he’s not yet old enough to be able to appreciate the irony inherent in his question: that in the “Middle East”, a phrase (and place) that still scares many people in the West, my son seems to be learning that different cultural practices can co-exist — not always comfortably but nevertheless without violence.

So happy National Christmas day to you all: may Santa (or whomever) ride his camel to your house and leave you white, red, green, and black striped gifts, and may you all have a happy new year, no matter which calendar you’re using.

This is an original post for the World Mom’s Blog by Deborah Quinn.

Photo credit to the author.

Mannahattamamma (UAE)

After twenty-plus years in Manhattan, Deborah Quinn and her family moved to Abu Dhabi (in the United Arab Emirates), where she spends a great deal of time driving her sons back and forth to soccer practice. She writes about travel, politics, feminism, education, and the absurdities of living in a place where temperatures regularly go above 110F.
Deborah can also be found on her blog, Mannahattamamma.

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